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How Vacation Rental Guest Demographics Can Inform International Destination Marketing Strategies

For those outside of the immediate region, South Carolina may not instantly jump off the page as an obvious vacation destination. However, the state does actually boast two of the country’s busiest vacation markets during the summer in Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach. Factor in emerging cities like Charleston, and on a smaller scale, Greenville, and South Carolina has the potential to elevate towards the upper tier of state tourism markets.

However, this reputation for not being a world-class destination extends deeper than just regional bias. South Carolina under performs when it comes to attracting foreign visitors. Using AllTheRooms Analytics’ comprehensive vacation rental demographics data, we examine where travelers to South Carolina are coming from and how the state could use focused marketing efforts to improve their influx of international visitors.

South Carolina Vacation Rental Guest Demographics: The Data (Oct 2018 – Sep 2019)

As can be seen from the data just a measly 5% of all South Carolina travelers come from somewhere outside of the United States. This puts South Carolina easily in the bottom quartile of US states for this category. Compare this to a state like Hawaii which has a much evener distribution of traveler demographics, 69% domestic and 31% international.

Some may argue that a place like Hawaii is more difficult to visit for many domestic travelers, giving international travel an advantage. However, Hawaii is considered the most isolated population center in the world so it is difficult for anyone to visit (it is 2,390 miles from the US and more than 4,000 from Japan). This argument can also be turned around. Hawaii is so difficult to visit, and yet draws hoards more tourists. Yes, South Carolina will never have the same tropical appeal as Hawaii, but it does have beautiful beaches in its own right and with a higher convenience threshold and a much lower price point, it wouldn’t be outrageous to think their vacation rental and tourism numbers should/could be higher.

So why then are so few international travelers coming to South Carolina? One issue is access. South Carolina’s largest international airport, Charleston International Airport, really can barely be considered international as it has one international route, to London, and that route is seasonal. Meanwhile, Myrtle Beach’s airport, which services most beach destinations in the state, only has two seasonal international routes, both of which go to Toronto. South Carolina’s final international airport, the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, does not have any international passenger flights, only cargo routes running to Germany and Mexico.

The other issue is South Carolina’s location. Many southern states’s vacation rental markets benefit from tourism coming from the Caribbean, however, for those trying to get in the main highlights of the East Coast, South Carolina is going to be skipped as travelers fly from Florida or Atlanta to New York. Miami, which receives more international flights from Latin America and the Caribbean than anywhere else in the US, is still a nine-hour drive from Charleston.

Of the 5% of vacation rental users traveling to South Carolina, the most were from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The gap between Germany and the fourth spot, France, is pretty significant, with Germany providing twice the amount of visitors than France. The most significant observation here may also be the most obvious, the top two international destinations are the countries that have direct flight routes into South Carolina. This ease of travel eliminates South Carolina’s isolation and probably has a significant impact on who comes to the state.

When looking at other spots on the list some country’s perform quite well, 5% coming from Australia is impressive when one considers the distance an Aussie has to come to reach The Palmetto State. However, South Carolina could do better, namely in the aforementioned Caribbean region, based solely on proximity if nothing else. When looking at the countries represented, only Puerto Rico and Colombia crack the top 20, with a total of 3% between the two of them.

If South Carolina wanted to target a market larger than the Caribbean, then they could look to Asia. Asian countries like China, Japan, and South Korea account for a huge swath of tourism revenue in the United States, and while all three are in the top 20 they represent only 4% of all travel to South Carolina’s VR market.

When looking at where people from these top countries begin, again, access plays a huge role. Remember that Toronto and London (UK) are the only cities with direct international flights to South Carolina. Those two cities account for a significant chunk of international travelers renting a vacation home in South Carolina. One could perhaps argue London is an out-sized population center in the UK and home to a large chunk of the more affluent vacationers in the UK, but access, likely, is still having an affect here.

So while these two cities perform nicely, where should there be targeted marketing efforts within these countries? It seems most prevalent to target significant population areas close to these cities that would use Toronto or London’s international airports anyways as they are the closest ones to home. In Canada, this would mean looking at Mississagua and Markham as areas of potential growth as they are both continuations of the Toronto metro area. Guelph and Hamilton, although further away, would fall into this category as well.

For the UK, targeting travelers in the UK’s affluent centers in the South, Midlands, and Manchester might make sense, given that London’s Heathrow airport essentially acts as the entire country’s long-haul international hub.

As for Germany, given there’s no direct connection from the country to South Carolina, you could argue that any of the cities large and wealthy population centers would make sense for South Carolina-focused destination marketing campaigns. Germany is Europe’s largest travel market and continues to grow strongly.

How Can This Data Can Be Used To Market South Carolina As A Destination Internationally

Our emphasis on the importance of incoming international travel is not an attempt to diminish the importance of domestic visitors, but rather an attempt to find where the lowest hanging fruit are for South Carolina’s destination marketing team. Domestic travel to South Carolina will likely stay consistent with recent trends, but by improving international traveler numbers the state could easily vault to the next level.

While South Carolina may be at a disadvantage purely based on location, with time, the correct marketing efforts, and the right data to back it up, spectacular results are possible. Plus, with reputable beach resorts, significant appeal to history buffs, a growing foodie scene, and cities with accolades like Charleston’s “America’s Friendliest City” (Travel+Leisure 2011, 2013 and Conde Nast Traveler 2014) and “World’s Best City” (Travel+Leisure 2016) we think it shouldn’t be too hard to make a trip there sound enticing.

For those tasked with marketing South Carolina as a destination, a strategy of focusing on growing international visitors from the current top origin markets with good international flight routes would be advantageous. A targeted marketing strategy focusing on Canadian travelers in the Ontario area and British travelers in the UK (given that Heathrow is widely used as an international hub by the whole of the country) could see some great results.

Can we focus this strategy even more? The 20-30 age group seems to be the most promising based on past data. This demographic is growing fast, increasingly prefer the experience of vacation rentals, and are open to trying out new, ‘undiscovered’ (at least in international terms) destinations.